27 February 2011

The Rainbow of Green

I hate the term "going green."  I hate it that people can buy bamboo floors for their house and call themselves "green."   That is still consumerism.  It's still fabricating new materials and shipping them all over the country and the world.

I hate that green is the newest buzzword, but we all pretend like it means something.  Like organic, modular, and eco-friendly.  Like retro, vintage, and shabby chic.

Green is a color.  It comes in all shades.  It is not a lifestyle, and it doesn't make you a better person if you salt your speaking with these words.

I am not green.  I am human.  And I am getting tired of all of our stuff.  And all of our waste.  And with how complicated our lives get so easily, so effortlessly.  And how it takes so long to bring back the simplicity.

And so I would never describe myself as green.  I would only say that we have been entrusted with much, and we are trying to be good stewards with time, money, and land.  It's a big job, and it's not going to get done by buying bamboo floors.

But no matter what the color of my life, I can only do what I can do.  Hopefully every day it's a little more.  And hopefully every day I can move a little closer to being a "good and faithful servant."

25 February 2011

Just One Thing

If you could snap your fingers and change just one thing about your family and lifestyle, what would it be?

eating healthier?

fewer commitments outside the home?

less clutter?

Now, just take that one thing, and find one way to move toward that goal.

Do you want to eat healthier?  Replace one meat meal a week with a vegetarian one.

Do you want to have fewer commitments outside the home?  have everyone choose their top one or two activities, and mark when they are.  Do what you need to do to find a day when nothing is planned, and fiercely protect it.  Mark it on the calendar as the Do Nothing Day.

Do you want less clutter?  Choose one bothersome area (i.e. mail center, clothes, closet).  Empty it, and refill it with only what you absolutely need.  Can't get rid of the rest?  Put it in a box, put it in a garage or on a shelf, seal it up, and keep it for 6 months.  Open it if there's something in there you must have, but if it's still sealed after 6 months, donate the items.

Do one thing, in one area.  Then do another.  And another.

Realize that one area you want to change is most likely a small part of a bigger area you want to change.  But also realize that change cannot happen if you are paralyzed with fear, frustration, or being overwhelmed.  One tiny step will start the forward motion to get you to where you want to be.

Just one thing.  Just one step.

23 February 2011


Time is Money

When I was little, one of my dad's favorite phrases was, "I could make that."  We would see something cool, and my dad would inevitably be able to make that something, only better.  A lot of times, he did.  Sometimes not (sorry dad, I'm thinking of the chair frame garage shelves).  

Well, I think I inherited the do-it-yourself gene from my dad.  I often see something and imagine how much money I could save by just doing it myself.  Halloween costumes, check.  Pillow cases, check.  Loaves of bread, check.

I would not describe myself as cheap; there are plenty of things I am happy to pay good money for (pedicures, babysitters, chocolate to name a few).  I guess I would call it being frugal.  

But as my life gets more and more chaotic with all these crazy kids running around, I'm finally learning to strike somewhat of a balance.  My secret?  I view my time as a commodity worth at least as much as my money.  Yeah, yeah, we all do that.  No great revelation.  But seriously, it's taken me 34 years to actually put this into practice.  Even though I know time is valuable, even though I know time is something I can't get back, I'm not convinced I do a very good job of protecting it.

So, whenever I am tempted to forego store bought and Do-It-Myself, I ask myself these questions:

Will it save me money?
Is the ready-made version more harmful to my family?
How much time will it realistically take?
Are the required supplies easily obtainable?
Will the homemade version work as well as store bought?

Not a perfect system, but it usually works.  I've had a couple failures.  For instance, cleaning supplies is a no-brainer for me.  I make all of our cleaners and laundry soap.  My one exception is dishwasher detergent.  I tried, but the cost saving was nominal, and it just didn't do a very good job at washing my dishes.  

Another exception is soap.  I like Dr. Bronner's soaps.  They are chemical free and able to do multiple jobs.  Not the cheapest soaps on the market, but I am unwilling at this point to invest my time in making homemade soap, so I choose to accept the price difference and buy these soaps.  One way I am saving money is by using this same soap for hand soap, body soap, and even a mild cleaner.  

I choose to make our bread because it tastes infinitely better than store bought bread.  I found a very simple method, so it is not a huge time investment.  

What's next on my time vs money experiment?  mayonnaise, butter, and *gasp* deodorant.  We'll also be trying our hands at container gardening this spring and summer.  

Time is not retrievable.  But some things are worth the investment, especially for the health and safety of my family.  The system is always a work in progress, but so far the experimentation has been fun, for all of us.

20 February 2011



I'm not really partial to government regulations.  Not to get into politics, but I tend to just want to be left alone.  But it really frustrates me when we are expected to follow restrictions and regulations like a herd of sheep but then are left  in the middle of the field with no information, no guidance whatsoever.

Most recently, I feel this way about how the FDA does virtually no regulation of cosmetic and personal care product ingredients.  How in the world can the Department of Agriculture make it difficult to nearly impossible for small sustainable farms to continue to operate, but the FDA allows known carcinogens into many beauty and personal care products?  

The problem for me is not that these products aren't regulated; the problem for me is the wildly inconsistent stance on regulation the US government seems to support.  If we were all left alone, as in Ayn Rand's (and most Libertarians') ideal world, then we would know that we have to take matters into our own hands.  Or, if we were never left alone, then we would know that we don't need to use our brains, because someone else is going to tell us what to do.  But to over-control some arenas and then turn a blind eye to others makes people unsure of how to proceed.  

And, because of the general opinion that the FDA is in place to keep us safe, virtually all of us have harmful products in our homes, whether it be cleaners, shampoos, or even sunscreen.  It makes me ill to think about.

Fortunately, I have recently been turned on to a website called cosmeticsdatabase.com.  On this site the Environmental Working Group rates the safety of the ingredients in many personal care products.  You can search for specific brands, such as ones you already use, and see how they rate.  Or, you can browse through products with good safety scores (safety meaning low toxicity, carcinogenic properties, etc.).

No matter how you feel about the matter, this website allows you to make informed decisions.  Ignorance is no excuse, at least not when it comes to your family's health.

17 February 2011

In Other(s) Words

I've been thinking a lot about how I can write about some other ways we've started simplifying our lives.  I mean, I know what to say, but I'm not sure how I can say them without sounding like a crazy hippie.  So, when I read this post on one of my favorite blogs, I thought I could link to it and you could see that I'm not so crazy.  Or maybe that there are other crazies out there too.

Anyway, I love using olive oil.  I've stopped buying specialty soaps and lotions in general.  But olive oil, well, it does a fantastic job at a lot of things.  For me it's right up there with vinegar, lemons, and baking soda.  Miracle product, but not the kind on late night infomercials.  I am digressing here, but the point is, by using a few natural ingredients that do a lot of things, I am simultaneously eliminating needless chemicals from our home, and decreasing the number of household items I need to keep track of and keep in stock around here.  Simplify simplify.

So, read the link.  Then come back here and read how I wash my face.  With oil.  Or you could read that now, but promise to come back here after you read the link, because then maybe you won't think I'm so incredibly nuts.  Hopefully.

I read about the Oil Cleansing Method on one of my favorite blogs, SortaCrunchy (read about it here).  I had already been thinking about it, so it was really just the last little push I needed.  The summary is that you use a combination of carrier oil (I use olive, you can try others) and castor oil.  The castor oil flushes out the ickies from the pores, and the carrier oil makes it possible.  I've been doing it for a couple months and I think I'll stick with it.  I like it.  Combine that with using a dab of straight olive oil for dry spots, and face lotion is out the door.

Am I nuts?  Maybe.  But by being nuts I eliminated a few more things from the shopping list, a few more pieces of trash from the garbage can, and kept a few more dollars in my wallet.  I'll take it.

15 February 2011


Homemade bread.

Homemade potato leek soup.

Homemade cheese.

This meal made me happy.  Of course it was delicious.  Of course it warmed me up on a cold winter evening.  And of course it was super easy.

But what made me happiest is that I knew every single ingredient that went into the making of this meal.

I knew every tiny detail.

My family ate well at this meal.  We didn't worry about the fat content, the msg, or the high fructose corn syrup.  We ate until we were full, and we enjoyed every bite.

So many fads, so much monitoring calories, fat, sugar.  Not enough enjoying fresh, whole foods.

Since we stopped worrying about using butter instead of margarine and started only eating foods whose ingredients we could pronounce, we have not gained any weight.

Since we stopped trying to limit our carbs and instead started baking our own bread, we have become healthier, not sicker.

Since we stopped eating food products created in a laboratory and started eating foods that are raised or grown, we have enjoyed eating.

But I should say we are trying to do all of these things.

Because right now the M&Ms leftover from last night's movie are calling my name.

11 February 2011


Good Enough

We have had two chaotic weeks here.  And if you ask me why, I'm not even sure I could answer.  At least not without a whole lot of thinking.  Even as I'm typing this I'm wondering what in the world snuck into our simple lives and turned everything upside down?

The latest and most happy distraction was tonight, but originated in 1972, before I was even born.  My grandmother had an exchange student from Italy living with her for a year.  They became very close and have always stayed in touch.  I grew up knowing Carmella as well.  So, when my grandmother came here to the Netherlands to visit us,  Carmella swallowed her fear of flying, left sunny and warm Italy, and travelled to gray and rainy NL just to visit her.  It was the most wonderful evening of food, drink, talking, and laughing with her and her husband.  I look forward to another day with them tomorrow.

But when I heard they were coming, two questions popped into my head:

1.  What do I cook for a family who buys parmesan cheese in Parma and hand makes their own pasta?


2.  How will I get this neglected house clean enough to host them here?

As the hours kept slipping away all week long, my panic and stress grew.  I got more headaches, and I developed a huge knot in my neck muscles.  And then it was Friday, a few hours from their arrival.  I had done the food shopping and prepared what I could for dinner.  I had cleaned the house in the minutes of cooperation The Girl gave to me.  But still, I kept finding more and more and more that should really be done.

Finally, out of time and resources, I had to call it Good Enough.

And you know what?


No one noticed the one shelf I forgot to dust.  No one cared that the dessert was store bought instead of home made.  People being reunited was the theme of the evening.  Mary instead of Martha.  Good Enough.  And I talked and laughed and hugged and didn't worry about the less than perfect house, not stressed at all.

I only wish I had decided it was good enough sooner.  I only wish I can have the discernment to know when something is good enough, when something is not really worth my worry.  I think when I am unable to do that, I am creating more chaos than I am controlling.  I think it's time to turn these wishes into prayers.

08 February 2011


The Substitutes


A Paper towel?  Well, rags.  I use any rags, but my favorite are old t-shirts.

A Tupperware container?  Glass jars.  Or bowls with a plate on top.  Or  silicone lids .

Ziploc bags?  Reusable ones.  The ones we like are called Lunchskins .  They cost between $7-10 depending on size, but ours are going strong after a few years.

Lotion?  Olive oil.  Incredibly moisturizing, all natural.  Does not clog pores, despite it being oil.

A dish drying rack?  Cookie cooling racks.  Turns a unitasker into a multitasker.

A sink cleaner?  Baking soda and half a lemon.  The baking soda is a mild abrasive, and the lemon cuts grease.

A bag closer?  Rubber bands.

Carpet spot cleaner?  Usually mild detergent like dish soap works for me, but I've also had success with laundry stain remover.

An ice pack?  A bag of frozen corn or peas.  Conforms to the shape of the injured body part.

A hot pack?  A sock filled with rice and microwaved.

That's all for now.  I have a million, but you get the idea.  Substitutes simplify my shopping list and are easy on my wallet and my trash can.  Plus, and this might really make you think I'm whacko, but it's kind of fun for me to find new uses for things.  Makes me feel creative.

05 February 2011


I've had quite a blissful week.  Three days ago I discovered that the windmill in my village opened a bakery.  I found bread made with wheat that is grown in their fields, harvested and milled by them, and then used in bread they bake.  I do make my own bread, but there are so many varieties at this place, I have plenty of options for breads that I don't make at home.  Not to mention that they make fresh pastries, with their specialty being apple strudel using apples from a local orchard.  Tasty.

And then today I shopped at a farm.

In the middle of the city.  Yup, a real working farm in the middle of Eindhoven, complete with grass fed cows and pigs, chickens that wander the yard, and it's own cheese making facility.

The kind of place where you buy whatever vegetables or fruit they're growing at the time (read:  whatever is in season).  The kind of place where the milk from the cows at the farm is used on site to make the cheese that I selected from the cheese wheels sitting on the shelves.  The kind of place where you buy however many eggs you want, oh, and feel free to gather them yourself from the hen houses.

This past week has been crunchy granola heaven.

And what makes it possible?  ACCESSIBILITY.  It takes hardly any more effort (or money) to shop at these places than at my local grocery store.  I'm fortunate; it's not always this easy to get quality whole foods straight from the source.

But it is possible, and every day it's getting a tiny bit easier.  Farmer's markets are becoming more common, and coops are getting more popular as well.  Food subscription services exist in a lot of cities - you pay a farmer at the beginning of a growing season, and every week you get a share of the harvest.

The real question is:  is it worth the effort?  For many years, it wasn't worth it to me to bother with where my food came from.  But it is now.  My son came with us to the farm, and he was amazed that he could reach into the hen house and pull out an egg.  He was speechless when he saw the rows and rows of cheese being aged, and the dirt all over the potatoes and carrots.

Soon we will begin planting our own vegetables...this will be quite the experiment in our "garden" that doesn't actually have any grass.  But I'm inspired by what I am seeing around me, and I'm encouraged by the fresh, in season food I've been able to buy.  Hopefully my family will enjoy this journey as much as I am.

02 February 2011


Child's Play

I have a shadow.  She's a couple feet tall, super cute, and says Mama about 50 times a day.  She's my baby, our third and last, and she absolutely cannot leave me alone.  Fortunately, I've encountered this before.  Twice before.  And so, even with this move into our three story Dutch row house, it's no problem.  

I just have a small toddler play space in every area of the house.  It's not a big area, and my house isn't overrun with toys.

In the kitchen, K has a drawer and a cabinet full of unbreakable kitchen items.

In the office area, K has a small box and a shopping cart, and the back side of the bookshelf/divider holds puzzles and books.

On the second floor, well, she pretty much rules.  She has a few toys in her room, and in the multipurpose/project/play room.  I just shut doors of rooms where she can't go.

And the top floor?  More of the same.  Small box in the corner of the room.  She knows where her things are in every area, and it helps me get things done during the day.  A lot of the time, the toys aren't even toys.  Kitchen items, some of my old jewelry, a broom and dustpan.  She likes to imitate.  Most toddlers do.  It works.

And they're not big areas either.  Small.  Child sized.  Just the way kids like them.  It works.